* Review: Tsai Ming-Liang’s “Face” is kind of mesmerizing

Best movies from the World Film Festival of Bangkok

Image from "Visage" by Tsai Ming-Liang

Still from Tsai Ming-Liang’s “Face”

Perhaps I’ve undergone a conversion experience. “Face” (aka “Visage”) is a long 140 minutes but may be Tsai Ming-Liang’s most beautiful, accessible movie to date. Granted, I’d only seen two before this one: “What Time Is It There?” and the one with the watermelon. Perhaps once you have seen a few of the Taiwanese director’s movies, his signature motifs reverberate: holes, tunnels, stairways and long, bare, lonely corridors. Vicious plumbing. Two characters wordlessly trying to communicate. Very long shots of a human walking (usually laboring) toward the camera from a great distance along a dingy tiled corridor.

The opening scene is vintage Tsai: actor Lee Kang-sheng turns on a kitchen faucet and the water blows out like a geyser. He struggles to quell it with a bucket. Meanwhile, water from the pipe under the sink explodes. In the next scene, he slogs knee deep down a flooded hallway to a room where a pregnant woman lies in bed. Continue reading

* Reviews from the Bangkok Film Festival

road home couple W FRAME      The Road Home: Love in the Time of Starvation

This is a dispatch from an early incarnation of the Bangkok International Film Festival, sometimes known as the Bangkok Film Festival. It appeared on a US website called CultureVulture. I’m leaving out the wrap-up and just running eight short reviews. Seems that my suspicions about Zhang Yimou’s shift in loyalties were right.

Here is the lowdown on the highlights and the hyped:

The Road Home

Perhaps Zhang Yimou’s new film, The Road Home, was so disappointing, dismaying actually, because it was so hyped. What happened to him? Could this be a piece of political penance? Zhang made his name in the early 1990s with gorgeous period films (Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern) that dramatized the plight of women in traditional Chinese society. Zhang last year took an abrupt, grittier turn with the contemporary Not One Less. Inspired by recent shoestring Iranian films, he realized that the mundane triumphs and struggles of very ordinary people,such as a teenage village schoolteacher, could still make a gripping story. And he didn’t shirk from showing the dirt and ugliness of any Chinese city and village.

The Road Home and Not One Less share some superficial similarities. A 30-ish present-day businessman returns to his native village for the funeral of his father. As the film shifts from black-and-white to color, he dreamily recalls how his schoolteacher father–an “intellectual” by Chinese standards–met his illiterate mother when he came to teach in the new village school. There is plenty of potential drama here. But this isn’t a movie: it’s a treacly pink- and red-tinted extended music video that might illustrate a compilation of mournful flute tunes.We see many scenes of the mother as a fresh-faced girl–pretty, pig-tailed Zhang Ziyi–running in slow motion in the countryside, spying on the school and preparing dishes for the eligible bachelor. Eventually, the two exchange a few words on culinary matters.

That’s it. There is no further revealing conversation, no scenes in the classroom, no interactions with adults or children, none of the village itself, no further hints of the teacher’s “political problem.” No reminders of age-old shrines, customs, superstitions or workaday rhythms. We get no inkling how either this girl of leisure, the sole child of a blind widow, or her fellow villagers put food on the table.

Continue reading

* Scenes from a Small Country

by Susan J. Cunningham

 

BANGKOK–Apichatpong Weeresethakul may have been playing a role when he described himself as “a nobody from a small country” while accepting the Jury Prize this year at the Cannes International Film Festival.

 

In person, shaven-headed and t-shirted, Mr. Apichatpong exudes serene self-confidence: This isn’t a man who thinks of himself as a nobody. He hasn’t kept up with the festival bookings for “Tropical Malady” and seems only mildly curious to hear of the latest gushing reviews from US critics.

 

Besides, nobodies aren’t so busy. The 34-year-old Mr. Apichatpong is now on a three-week, five-city U.S. tour to present his short videos and three feature films at museums and arts centers. He’ll return to Asia in time to talk about “Tropical Malady” at the Tokyo Filmex Festival Nov. 23. When he gets back home to Bangkok the next day, he’ll start work on an experimental DVD film for South Korea’s Jeonju International Film Festival in April.

Continue reading